Author: Laura Bates
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
I’ll resist the urge to talk about how it’s taken me so long to type up my review for this book that I read it last year, but today’s review is of Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. The aim of Bates’ book is to publish the accounts of sexist incidents posted on her website The Everyday Sexism Project. Needless to say, Bates is a feminist who is of the belief that women are not equal to men in our society- something she perceives as a massive social injustice that must be addressed. Before I can even begin to review this book, I feel I must state my own views on the issue of sexism. I am not, have never been and NEVER will be a Feminist. Whilst I agree that women are still not totally equal in our society, I feel we are as equal as we are ever going to be, and that there are more pressing social injustices, such as racism, that affect our society more profoundly than sexism. In an ideal world women would be totally equal, yet real life doesn’t always embody one’s ideals. I simply read this book to become more educated on ‘the other side of the argument’, and to find out what compels someone to become a feminist. Therefore, if I am to review this book fairly, I probably ought to concede that I picked up this book expecting to dislike it and disagree with the principals it proposes.
However, my admittedly prejudiced expectations turned out to be accurate. I am conscious of not wanting this review to descend into a rant, so I’ll highlight my issues with the various chapters of this book (each of which is on a different subject) in chronological order. One thing that irritated me throughout the book was the way Bates seemingly believes no sweet and innocent woman has ever had the audacity to comment on a man’s looks, body or behaviour in the way. This belief first became evident when Bates was berating men for dismissing sexist comments on women’s appearances as ‘jokes’ amongst groups of ‘lads’, but failed to acknowledge that groups of women pass similar comments on men on a daily basis. I refuse to believe any heterosexual woman has never passed time with her friends daydreaming over their favourite hunky actors, just as I refuse to believe any heterosexual man has never discussed the latest edition of a lads’ mag with his friends. Bearing that in mind, how many men have complained about vulgar comments made about their appearance by a woman? I feel it is untrue and somewhat hypocritical for feminists to pretend they are too virtuous to have ever discussed a man’s appearance. Similarly, Bates should consider the media may devote more column inches to women’s appearance than men’s because the clothes worn by females are generally much more vibrant and ornate, rather than because our society views women as objects there to be assessed based on looks. At the end of the day, Theresa May’s choice of shoes is slightly more interesting than the fact David Cameron wore a very similar suit for Prime Minister’s Questions two weeks in a row! Furthermore, I dislike the way Bates seems to think only women in the public eye have embarrassing stories published about their private lives in the media- whatever one thinks of the Prime Minister, it can’t be denied the recent ‘Pig Gate’ scandal must have been mortifying for him. Then we come to what women are called in the media and public spaces- Bates is quite right to suggest ‘whore’, ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ are offensive terms to label a woman, but wong to suggest women should not be referred to as being a ‘virgin’ or a ‘mother’.
Now, I move on to discuss Bates’ comments on women being openly harassed and oppressed on the street. Whilst I completely agree that sexual assault and rape are heinous, horrific life-destroying crimes whose vicitims should be encouraged to report what they have gone through to the police, I hardly think being catcalled by a man on the street can have the same devastating affect on a woman. I furthermore disagree that the police should be called to very minor sexist incidents, such as a catcall or a woman having her bottom pinched, and actually find the insinuation that sassy, witty women can’t simply deal with such incidents themselves somewhat patronising.
Aside from discussing how women are presented in the media, something I have already referred to earlier in this post, Bates also talks about how society has certain high expectations of how women should act and dress. This is most definitely true, yet Bates fails to comprehend that the same can be applied to men. I don’t know any women who are stick-thin, flawlessly beautiful, intelligent and witty all at once; neither do I know any men who manage to be handsome, witty, intelligent and ‘ripped’ at the same time. I took particular offence at Bates’ statement that ‘the media largely reflects their [men’s] reality’… Say that to the teenage boy told he can’t be suffering from an eating disorder because it’s a ‘girl’s’ thing, or the man spending hours in the gym to get the sixpack he saw on an advertising board the other day.
Having just looked at the word-count for this post and realised it’s already longer than most of my completed reviews, I’ve decided now is probably time I acknowledged the few statements in this frankly melodramatic novel that actually made a degree of sense. For instance, I accept that sexism is still a social problem in today’s society- I simply feel it has little affect on life in modern day Britain. I know this is a typical anti-Feminist argument, but I feel we should address the degree of sexism still present in the Western world only once female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriages between children have been eradicated. One thing the figures included in the book do show is that these are extremely serious issues that MUST be resolved. As someone who greatly admires the work of Malala Yousafzai, I further feel getting all girls an education should be prioritised over dealing with sexism in the UK. That being said, I can understand Bates feeling passers-by should intervene in cases of street harassment, even if I feel such incidents shouldn’t be reported to the police and that recent internet campaigns about women facing harassment have exaggerated the impact of the issue. Moreover, I do agree the women who have organised mass protests against issues like FGM and forced marriage should be commended.
As a whole, I genuinely disliked Everyday Sexism, even if that was the reaction I expected to have towards the novel. The only reason I am not about to give this book an extremely low rating is that I actually enjoyed creating counter-arguments to many of its brash statements. Now, if you’re a feminist reading this post I am well aware it may offend you, but this is the point I’d like you to pause and consider the following: do you not have a similar reaction of dislike when someone tells you they are NOT a feminist? At the end of the day, I am simply not the sort of woman at which this novel is aimed.
Rating: **.5 (2.5/5)